HOOVER, Ala. — Another log was thrown on top of Bo Wallace's motivational fire while the Ole Miss quarterback was on the way to SEC media days Thursday morning.
The initial spark came on a cold, windy night in Starkville last November.
With a nine-win season still within reach when the Rebels went into the Egg Bowl against in-state rival Mississippi State to end the regular season, Wallace threw three interceptions and fumbled as he was about to score a tying touchdown in overtime of a 17-10 loss to the Bulldogs.
Wallace said he still thinks about that game every day.
"I remember Bo catching a lot of flak from media, social media, all that kind of stuff," Rebels safety Cody Prewitt said. "You have to be a pretty strong person to see that kind of criticism and then turn it into a positive thing. I think he's successfully done that.
"He's taken the criticism that he got and he's turned it into energy and motivation."
With a league-wide void at quarterback after the departures of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray, South Carolina's Connor Shaw and LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Wallace expected to be on the All-SEC second team behind Auburn's Nick Marshall.
Instead, Wallace was voted to the third team behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.
"If we win that game in Mississippi State, the voting's going to be a lot different, the hype is going to be a lot different," Wallace said. "That's why that's happening, but it puts a chip on my shoulder. I learned about it on the way over here, and I wasn't happy about it. It just adds another chip to my shoulder that I play with anyway."
While battling shoulder injuries during his first two years, Wallace has thrown for 6,340 yards and 40 touchdowns with 14 touchdown runs in coach Hugh Freeze's up-tempo spread offense, and he's been a big part of the Rebels' quick turnaround.
Ole Miss was 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the SEC the two years before Freeze's arrival, prompting South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier to joke two years ago at this event he'd put the Rebels on the Gamecocks' schedule if he could.
"At that point," Freeze said, "who wouldn't have wanted to play Ole Miss?"
Yet after winning seven and eight games in his first two seasons with bowl wins to cap off each, Freeze admitted the rise has happened "faster than I thought possible" and believes Ole Miss is ahead of schedule.
"When I first arrived here," he said, "I really thought we would be going to a bowl game in year three. With the recruiting that our coaches have done and with those two successful seasons, there's no question that the expectations are raised.
"I said on day one that my expectations were to make Ole Miss relevant in the SEC West, and I think this year we should be that."
Is this the program's best chance to be even more?
Ole Miss returns 16 starters, including nine on defense, Wallace, its top options at tailback and the nucleus of a talented 2013 recruiting class that made a major impact as freshmen last season.
The Rebels draw Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State in Oxford and go on the road to LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
Wallace, No. 2 behind Eli Manning on the program's charts for career passing yardage and total offense, said he can sense a hunger from the Ole Miss fan base for more, but the Rebels are one of four programs that never have reached the SEC title game.
"That cements your legacy, is being the first one to be able to do it," he said. "I know that I'm going to put up the numbers just because Coach Freeze's offense is built for a quarterback to put up numbers. I know I can do that, but it would be priceless to take this team to Atlanta."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...